Court Says Campaign Finance Law Violates Free Speech of Political Action Committees

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 17, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Political action committees have a constitutional right to receive contributions from each other, a federal appeals court said.

In Free and Fair Election Fund v. Missouri Ethics Commission, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said Missouri violated that right. The state's constitution banned inter-committee contributions, but the appeals court said they have a right to do it under the First Amendment.

The appeals panel said the state may restrict campaign financing to prevent "corruption or the appearance of corruption," but the Missouri law did nothing like that.

Constitutional Amendment

Missouri voters approved the constitutional amendment in 2016. Enacted as Article VIII, Section 23.3, it claimed to reform campaign contributions.

But the Free and Fair Election Fund challenged the amendment, claiming the contributions restriction violated its right to free speech. A trial judge issued an injunction against the ban, and the state appealed.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed, saying the inter-PAC transfer ban "does little, if anything, to further the objective of preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption." The appeals panel distinguished its decision from The Alabama Democratic Conference v. Broussard.

"Unlike Alabama," the judges said, "Missouri limits the contributions that a PAC can make to a candidate, so the anti-corruption interest cited in support of the Alabama law is diminished here."

"Blow to Transparency"

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called the decision a "blow to supporters of transparency in campaign finance laws."

Ruthann Robson, writing for Constitutional Law ProfBlog, said the decision set up a potential circuit conflict on the constitutionality of inter-PAC transfers.

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